Football team still a long way from bowl berth

Jim Schortemeyer

Hold off on the plane tickets to warm locations and tone down the impending rodent hysteria surrounding the Minnesota football team.
They haven’t won anything yet.
Sure, all they need is a piddly six wins to qualify for the postseason. With three wins virtually assured against Big Ten look-alike teams (Northeastern, Illinois State, and Ohio), all Minnesota needs to do is win three Big Ten games to qualify for postseason play.
Why is everybody aiming for the low end of the bowls? I haven’t heard much out of the Gophers camp that sounds like Minnesota is booming with confidence. In fact, the Gophers brass seems content to go 3-5 or 4-4 in the Big Ten and sneak its way into a bowl game.
Maybe it’s the years of ineptitude or the many disappointments of the Vikings that have lowered our hopes for this year’s Gophers squad. But why be happy with a team that’s going to be slightly better than those of years past?
What it comes down to is the aura of making a bowl game. There’s something special about it — even if it’s a game played well before Christmas. I’m not knocking the Gophers for being content with just making the postseason; the real fault is with the system.
It’s easy to take shots at the bowl system, with seemingly everyone having an “important” view on the Chevron-FedEx-Tropicana-Condom Kingdom-Dixie Sugar Bowl. The ugly fact of the matter is a team could go 3-5 in the Big Ten and still make the postseason.
Why? Because the Big Ten is supposedly such a football factory that its sixth-place team is better than the WAC’s second-place team. But that answer covers up the fact that there are too many bowl games to begin with.
I take that back. There are enough games to equal the public’s interest — there just aren’t enough college teams to play in the games.
Minnesota might be one of those teams squeezing into the bottom of the bowl picture this season. If a team goes 3-5 in its conference, does it deserve to make the postseason? Maybe if teams like Notre Dame and Florida State are on a team’s pre-conference schedule, but last time I checked, Ohio doesn’t quite have the stature of those more established programs.
As it stands, the Gophers are just hoping to make a bowl game. The last time the Gophers were in a bowl, I was in third grade. I’ve watched a coach whose idea of a run play was a wide receiver screen. I’ve seen two record-setting running backs do zilch in the pros. And there’s nothing I would like to see more than Minnesota return to the postseason.
But I don’t want to see them go 3-5 in the Big Ten en route to play Air Force in the Independence Bowl. Life is too short for bowl games in early December. This Minnesota football team needs to finish playing its cream puffs and then make a statement in the conference season.
And it’s possible for Minnesota to make some noise in the Big Ten. The Gophers were about as lucky as they could be when the schedules came out. Michigan State, which always seems to find a way to beat Minnesota, is off the schedule. And so is Michigan, which has been ranked in the top 10 since the first polls were released.
That means Minnesota has a very good chance of winning four conference games. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern should all be winnable games. Purdue and Ohio State might be vulnerable, but Penn State and Wisconsin look like mortal locks to battle with Michigan for the conference championship.
All I’m asking for is an upset or two. This team should win a bare minimum of four games in the Big Ten. But why aim for the lowest reachable goal? I’m tired of watching mediocre football under the Teflon roof. If these guys are going to go to a bowl, make it a decent one. All that would take is an attainable 5-3 conference record.
For the love of the game, I hope these guys either go 5-3, or 0-8. I don’t know if I can handle another sub .500 season, even if they make a bowl game.

Jim Schortemeyer is the Daily sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at 627-4070 x3241.